Desertion

Eddie was a fuck-up, always in and out of jail for petty crimes. When he got drafted in  ’44, he figured at least that would keep him out of jail.

As it was, he barely made it through basic. All the time on the troop ship he prayed that it’d be over before he got there.

He was separated from the replacement group during an artillery bombardment and took off, spending a month with the Canadian MPs.

That’s when he decided he wasn’t cut out for combat.

He wrote a letter to his CO.

The next January the Army executed him.

More on Eddie here.

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Scavengers

Walker and me make offers whenever the banks foreclose on a place. We come it low, and usually somebody else will win it. Fine by us, since we’ll get it sooner or later.  City people see a farmhouse for a song and buy it, not realizing that the value will only go down.Nobody makes it out here since the town went under. After a year or five or ten, they’ll move on, sell it to us for what they can get. We go in and strip it of everything worth a dime, then burn what’s left to the ground.

 

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Panic

The men in the house are speaking Spanish as they move from room to room.

We’re hiding in the bedroom closet. I can hear Jeff in my head. You should have listened to me. You should have been prepared. I’d laughed at him. A panic room. That sort of idea was why we couldn’t stay married. Jeff, always suspicious, even paranoid. His “go bag,” his guns, his three days of emergency food. Ready for anything. I couldn’t take it.

The men are coming upstairs. Janey starts squirming on my lap, this game no longer fun.

I wish Jeff was here.

 

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The Fire Brings Us Closer

The burning building had excited him.

Stirred him.

He felt the burn of it begin to consume him, insatiable.

He closed his eyes and lay on the floor, the map spread beneath him, his arms wide.

He was a bat, soaring over the city, random in his flight.

He could see it in his mind’s eye.

He would cut up his pillowcase for wicks.

Many wicks from a single garment, their origin joining them forever in his mind.

He would set the fires, he would wait, he would watch.

There were all the houses, all the city, all the world.

They’ll Never Catch Me

Jae came smiling out of Bloomingdale’s, skipped across Michigan Avenue against the light.

Jae always got like this when she shoplifted.

Jae said it was a better high than glass, even.

She reached down into her jacket and pulled out a long silk scarf embroidered with green and white birds.

“Those dumb fucks never knew what hit them!” she laughed. “I’m like a goddamned cat.”

“A scarf?”

“Hermes, baby. Look at the tag.”

“Holy shit. Five hundred bucks? You gotta be kidding.”

“Snagged it off a mannequin. I know what to look for.”

Jae spit towards the store. “Dumb fucks.”

thrift

“So many things you have acquired,” said the Master. “You must tell me their stories. What is that there, on the shelf?”

“That is a wedding vase, Master. It belonged to my grandmother.”

“And that?”

“My father’s astrolabe. He bought it from a Chinese seaman in San Francisco.”

The Master nodded. “So many things you have acquired and arranged around you. A story for each of your objects.”

He paused. “It is you who gives them context. When you die, they will lose their meaning. They will be a pearl necklace in a bag with no rope to connect them.”

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The Beginning of the End

“That’s gorgeous,” she said. She took a pull from her bottle. “Seriously.”

“You gonna share that?” I held out my hand. I took several swallows. The sunset was gorgeous, but that didn’t matter.  I sighed.

“Mr. Sourpuss,” she said. “So you got fired. Big deal. You’ll get another job.”

“Yeah, well. Maybe I don’t want one. Maybe I’m no good.”

She took back the bottle. “Good. Self-pity. That’s a great strategy.”

“Look, I’m just venting. Don’t you be angry at me too.”

Her eyes flared. “Angry? Me? Why would I be angry?”

I didn’t answer. She got up, walked away.

 

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Got What He Was After

He got it in his head, so. It was a fever. No amount of lickings could discourage him. The old man whupped him so bad the last time he like to have died. As it was, he got laid up for almost a week before he got back to it.

I reckon he did find it, though. Them stones was all took apart, piled neat by a hole as big as a breadbox, square as you please. Of course we never did see him around here again. Whatever he found in that hiding hole was all he ever wanted.

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Innocence

“My nona used to trap songbirds,” she said. “In Torino. She told me that they used to string nets along the trees. In the morning they would bring ladders and pluck them out by the dozens.”

“That’s cruel,” said the boy.

“They were starving,” she said. “You know how that feels.”

The boy knew. “Can we catch them too?”

“Nobody can eat them now,” she said. “The birds are why everybody got sick.”

“The birds?” It seemed unlikely.

She went to the window. “The flu came from birds. They gave it to the pigs, who gave it to us.”

 

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Stowaway

Ernando heard something scuttling in the ankle-deep water. A rat, maybe. Ships were famous for rats. It was pitch black down in the hold, the air close and fetid.

Boarding this ship had not been planned. He’d seen the freighter and decided right there, rowed the stolen skiff out to the mooring and shimmed hand-over-hand up the the anchor chain to squeeze through the hawse hole high above the waterline. In utter darkness he’d slid down the chain to the unventilated cable tier deep inside the hull.

It was probably day by now. He wondered if he’d made a mistake.

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